Five Leadership Lessons From The NFL Playoffs

Jan 6, 2020

Leadership is more than quick soundbites while being mic’d up.

We often hear announcers comment, “He’s such a great leader for his team.” But what does that mean? What does he do? What traits does he possess which make him a leader?

NFL Wild Card weekend was full of great games going down to the wire. Each of the teams playing had strong leadership, otherwise they wouldn’t have advanced to the playoffs. However, we’re going to focus on five specific individuals and examine what they did, and do on a consistent basis which make them great leaders.

Leaders look within themselves

DeShaun Watson made the play of the weekend and arguable of the season when he escaped two would be tacklers and found an open receiver to set up first and goal for Texans in OT. More than being a phenomenal athlete, Watson displays strong leadership for his team. Before Saturday’s game he put cards in his teammates’ lockers challenging them to be great. After the Texans kicked the field goal to win the game, Watson said during his on field interview, “Someone had to make a play and be great, why not me?”

Long before Saturday’s heroics DeShaun had go through a maturation process. He had to look within and mature before he could achieve playoff success. Watson’s leadership lesson is leaders look within themselves. He’s discussed in several interviews how important it was for him to mature over the past year. It’s hard to lead others if you haven’t undergone a self-evaluation. At Lead ‘Em Up we have an exercise called The Leadership Assessment Tool where athletes can evaluate their leadership strengths and measure their growth throughout the season.

Leaders diligently prepare

Kirk Cousins was able to put to bed a lot of knocks against his ability with yesterday’s OT win in New Orleans. Sure, he’s had a solid NFL career, but he’s lacked signature wins. Cousins has taken a lot of criticism. Teammate Stefon Diggs said, “He takes a lot of heat, but he takes it and leads his team the best he can.”

Prior to this season NFL teams were 0-99 when trailing by more than 20 points at halftime. That was until Kirk Cousins led the Vikings back to beat the Denver Broncos earlier this season. Kirk has faced a lot of adversity throughout his career. He’s gone through tough times only to come out better. Cousins leadership lesson is leaders diligently prepare. Kirk Cousins success came after he prepared his heart and mind. His clutch wins this season came after facing doubt and adversity from outside and within. It’s why our aim at Lead ‘Em Up is to provide dynamic exercises and spirited live training which prepare athletes to be the leaders needed to win.

Leadership is the new cool

Pete Carroll is 68 years old but acts like he’s 28. Whether you’re a fan of the Seattle Seahawks or not, it’s hard to not appreciate Carroll’s enthusiasm. Many fans only know of Carroll as he head coach of the Seahawks or from his days as USC’s coach. However, before taking his career to new heights Pete was fired from the New England Patriots. After his firing, Pete reflected on who he was as a coach, and how he’d be different with his next team.

Pete Carroll is fun. He’s the type of coach athletes love to play for and learn from. Carroll’s leadership lesson is leadership is the new cool. Once Pete fully embraced who he was and how he truly wanted to lead, his career took off. Now Carroll has a consistent approach in place, strong relationships with players, coaches, and people within the organization. Carroll exemplifies what we want our curriculum at Lead ‘Em Up to be: fun, engaging, memorable, and portable.

There’s no prerequisite for leadership

The Tennessee Titans had the most daunting task of the weekend. Go into New England defeat the reigning Superbowl champs and potentially end a dynasty. The Titans were supposed to do this with an unproven quarterback, a young head coach with little coaching experience, and 30 players who were making their playoff debuts. Sometimes all athletes and teams need is an opportunity.

In order accomplish this monumental task the Titans had to maximize team performance. Work horse running back Derrick Henry said after the win, ” We didn’t give up and we believed in each other.” Head coach Mike Vrabel said, “Every player who played contributed.” Even though they lacked experience, the Titans found a way to get it done. Leaders stepped up when it mattered most. The Titan’s leadership lesson is there’s no prerequisite for leadership. Every athlete is capable of leading. It’s why one of Lead ‘Em Up’s core belief’s is leadership is a skill, and like it any skill it can be developed and improved.

Bright lights don’t need spotlights

Drew Brees was in his 19th NFL season at the age of 40. Although his team came up just short yesterday, there’s still a lot to be learned from Brees. He’s a future Hall of Fame quarterback who holds many of the top NFL passing records. He’s one of the great quarterbacks of all time. Yet you would never know it by listening to him.

Throughout his career Drew Brees has been quick to share praise with his teammates. Earlier this year he told a reporter, “You don’t want to talk to me, you want to talk to this dude” (WR, Michael Thomas). Brees’s leadership lesson is bright lights don’t need spotlights. True leaders are secure enough in their own skin, they aim to lift others up. Throughout his career Brees has led on and off the field. His organization and community are better because of him. At Lead ‘Em Up we believe leadership is a lifestyle and Drew Brees is a prime example of that.

The lessons we can learn from the NFL playoffs are proof that leadership matters.

Mentors are all-around us. They’re in every sport across the globe and if we look closely we see the positive impact leadership has.


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